Murphy, directed by Laurence Coy, designed by Sarah Contos with lighting by Tony Youlden featured a very competent cast in Alan Flower, Jay Gallagher, Craig Meneaud, Hayley Mitchell, Josh Wakely and Andy Rodoreda as Roy Murphy. Ultimately its shortcoming lay in the style of the production. It seemed to be presented as a farce and as such at times proved laboured and self-conscious. Certainly there were some very funny segments but the production didn’t gel.
Buzo’s work doesn’t play as comedy any more than Beckett’s does.
In part it may be a confusion with Buzo’s style that provides the key to the reason why Emma felt it necessary to launch The Alex Buzo Company for it was this for which the event was staged. As she acknowledged it is an attempt, to get ‘Alex’s work out there’. It seems that an audience who once couldn’t get enough ‘Buzo’ now gets its hits elsewhere.
The interest in a writer who is essentially a commentator on the moving face of social mores is likely to ebb before the tide of more current and seemingly more relevant new dramatists. But Emma isn’t about to let her father become a literary curiosity and so a first blow to curate his work much as Arkie Whitely so successfully accomplished with the work of her late father, Brett.
There is something about drama, however, that seems to frustrate the author’s ability to capitalize on it.
The law of intellectual property has done little for the playwright. Entertainment like everything else is about market attraction, bums on seats, the ability to ‘draw’ an audience. After the playwright’s no longer ‘new’ they have to wait for induction into the rarefied realm of the ‘classics’ if they are to have any future off the library shelf.
In the eighteenth century the same problem faced composers. Beethoven had to fund evenings to promote even his best received works. It wasn’t until the introduction of the four handed piano interpretations that people were able to take something home with them. Something to remind them of the moments of brilliance they had experienced. The composer finally had something to sell.
But is it really appropriate that, having struggled to reach acclaim, writers should then be condemned to becoming little more than a dramatic curiosity?
The reason is no doubt partly because the times are out of joint with poets and dramatists. Both have to compete with their boisterous second cousins by marriage, film and song, both of which come predigested for their audience. Each has very successfully defined intellectual property for itself both at the level of production and authorship. It’s on this that their respective industries thrive.
Buzo’s works include many brilliant examples of drama that comprise a definitive cannon. The fact that Roy and H.G. have been able to transmute it into a non-stop entertainment phenomenon suggests that the style of humour when captured is still marketable. It hasn’t dated. However in terms of theatre the works now attract the aficionado rather than the mainstream having lost the original cachet of currency and surprise.
That’s precisely what Emma wants to change but the problem in Buzo’s case may well be in the appreciation of his style. At the core of their theatrical brilliance lies his ability to play with the space-time continuum of naïve expressionism in the same way Beckett does. It has its counterpart in painting in the likes of Matisse and Munch. There is the disjunction of an initial dramatic scenario by interposing orchestrated changes within the work that take it in other directions. It’s rather a case of shit happens, get on with it.
Buzo’s plays are difficult to stage in performance. While often described in realistic terms there is a surreal aspect to the interpolated elements as scripted with the outcome often leaning toward farce. For all the apparent absurdity the actors are required to genuinely interact of their own volition much as children seen in a playground. If the play appears staged as sitcom it fails. For its actors it’s the intensely important task of managing a social situation. When his work is brought to the point of spontaneous interaction it is very, very funny and at the same time very poignant. It is the universal human predicament how to get through without making an ass of yourself.
The problem with drama, unlike art, is that it’s a collaborative undertaking. There will never be any consistency, thank God. No two performances are ever the same let alone two interpretations. That’s why it will always be the greatest of artistic experiences, seeing your fellow man tread where angels would not follow. It’s going to be a tall ask of Emma to reestablish her father’s domain and preserve him from the fate of becoming a curiosity. There is certainly no Australian dramatist more worthy of the effort.
THE BIG BUZO NIGHT OUT
featuring Buzo’s riotous satire THE ROY MURPHY SHOW
Venue: Parade Theatre, Kensington
Date: September 4
Bookings: Ticketek 1300 795 012 or www.ticketek.com.au